Best Watercolour Brushes for Beginners

During a recent Q&A session on my Instagram page, a follower asked for brush suggestions. So today, I'm going to talk more about watercolour brushes that I think are good for beginner artists.

Different types of brushes

There are many different types of watercolour brushes. They can differ in the shape of the brush, the type of hair used, the body and of course the brand.

Let's look at the shape of the brushes.

These are some brushes that I have, from top to bottom

  • Flat wash
  • 2x round
  • Flat
  • Waterbrush
  • Mop

Without confusing you too much on the variety, the most common and versatile brush is the round brush. It's a brush that can produce thin and thick strokes. Next common brush is probably the flat brushwhich can cover a larger area but the strokes are rectangular in shape, unless you paint on its edge. Even for flat brushes, there are the normal flat and flat wash (can hold more water).

The last brush in the photo above is the mop brush, which is a larger variation of the round brush but uses (mostly) squirrel hair to increase its water holding capacity.

Other types of brushes not shown are rigger, fan, angled, filbert, etc.

If you're a beginner, or have limited budget, I recommend you to start with the versatile round brush. The shape of the hair determines the type of strokes it can create. You should choose the brush for the type of work or strokes you want to create. The round brush is a good general purpose brush.

When you have more budget, you can then explore other brushes.

What are the characteristics of a good brush

A good brush should be able to spring back to its original shape after each use. It should be able to hold a satisfactory amount of water so that you don't have to keep on reloading. A good brush should be durable too and be able to last long or you will have to replace them regularly and spend more money as a result.

The characteristics of the brush comes from the type of hair used.

Type of hair

There are three types of hair, namely synthetic, mixed hair, and natural hair.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell what type of hair the brush is using just by looking at it. So it's important to read the label on the brush.

The type of hair used will affect the characteristic of the brush.

Synthetic brushes are usually slightly stiffer, although nowadays there are those that are quite soft. They hold less water compared to natural hair brushes so you may need to reload the brush quite often. They release water differently compared to natural hair brushes. Synthetic brushes are usually the most affordable brushes.

For example, this synthetic brush is made of white Toray, a type of synthetic fiber. The hair is white when new, but it will be stained with colours upon use. You can clean the brush properly after each use, but the stained colours will not be washed off so don't be too concerned about it.

Mixed hair brushes, as the name suggest, uses different types of hair. Shown above is a Series 5550 Cosmotop Mix F. It uses a mix of Kolinsky Red Sable, Ox Hair (sometimes called Sabeline), Russian Fitch (Black Sable) and some synthetic hair. The use of mixed hair allows the brush to have characteristics of each hair. It's not like brush has all the best characteristics because the portion of hair used is split between the types. For example, if a mixed hair brush has more squirrel hair, then it's going to be able to hold more water, but it will also be softer and less able to go back in shape.

Natural hair brushes are from animals. Different animal hair have different characteristics, of course. Goat hair for example feels like a rag and is difficult to achieve a sharp point and get back in shape. Sable hair is the top quality hair for watercolour painting. They can hold a good amount of water, have a nice spring back to shape and can achieve sharp points. A good Sable brush is expensive.

If you're a beginner with limited budget, I suggest starting out with synthetic hair brushes first. If you find that the brush is limiting you, or is unable to achieve certain effects, you can then upgrade to better quality brushes. But if you're really serious about watercolour, then perhaps you can just go ahead and get a Sable brush.

Type of body

There are the traditional wooden bodies and the portable collapsible versions.

I recommend getting the collapsible ones because they are as durable, and they have the advantage of being easy to transport around. You can collapse the body, use it as a cap to protect the hair. In its collapse form, you can put it in a pencil case or throw it into your bag. Downside of collapsible brush would be the limited sizes. The largest collapsible brushes from Da Vinci and Escoda go up to size 12 only